Students in the American church are experiencing a loneliness epidemic known as systematic abandonment. So what are some responses when addressing abandonment?
In my youth ministry experience it has been my mission, joined with the Holy Spirit, to intentionally respond to this systematic abandonment issue. I have responded in two approaches: 1) Proactively assimilating students into the church body; and 2) Getting more adults in the lives of kids through the small group model.
Small group is the strategic way to facilitate mentor relationships between students and non-parental committed adults. The key words that define mentor relationships are: accountability, safety, warmth and friendship. The research behind Sticky Faith suggests that students need five adults cheering and supporting them through their adolescent development process. Thus, it is my belief that a small group ministry in a youth ministry can at least provide one or two adults who love, care for and support a student.
My biggest regret in my youth ministry career was not placing a high value on small groups. I thought you had to have really mature students in order to do small groups, while actually the reverse is true. I think small group leaders can come alongside students and help them integrate their lives with faith. Small groups should not have more than eight students per one adult. One adult can only handle the spiritual, mental, hormonal and emotional levels of eight students. Any small group over eight students will not work as effectively because the small group leader cannot be attentive to the many spiritual and emotional needs of his or her students. The only difficulty of the small group model is recruiting quality and healthy leaders.
The bottom line is that getting more adults in the lives of students will produce a more sustainable youth ministry. The goal of the small group model is to make the small group leader the superhero, not the youth pastor.
The hardest part about implementing the assimilation strategy and the small group model is making the shift from working with students to adults. The youth pastor now becomes the one who equips and inspires adults to work with the next generation. Remember, it is more about mindset than programming. It is about convincing adults to have a caring and loving attitude toward adolescents in their church communities.